Letter: Alternatives to ‘luxury’ West Kelowna city hall

…The best thing for the City of West Kelowna residents is to have a proper referendum with so much taxpayer money at stake.

To the editor:

Re: Alternative Approval Process (AAP) to borrow $10.5 million for a West Kelowna city hall.

Many citizens of the community are skeptical about the City of West Kelowna decision to build a new city hall. Because the planning and design will be done by the people (bureaucrats and politicians) who will occupy it, there is an obvious conflict of interest. Will they build luxury offices and first class amenities, or a practical, perhaps a utilitarian, office? We have seen the high end result in Lake Country where the nicest building is the city hall.

The city has put additional obstacles in the way of accessing and delivering opposed elector responses to the AAP, it should be simple and convenient but it is not, why?

A developer is “partnering” the project and adding residential and commercial components to it—who and how will the costs be allocated to the parts? Will there be sufficient safeguards to ensure the city does not bear any cost associated with the “partner’s” portion of the project? Developers are in it to make money—big developers are very good at that and at negotiating deals. History shows us that the government is not a good designer or negotiator in these situations, just look at the cost over-runs for LePage Place, and the land deals for the Westside Road overpass on Highway 97.

There are many concerns and risks with the Elliot Road joint use residential/office/commercial facilities: Security, conflict in maintenance standards, noise, operating costs, type of tenants in the commercial portion, maintenance of a quality apartment building over time, increased pressure to rezone the nearby agricultural lands to name a few.

The city must buy the land, a very high investment. Why not use existing land already owned by the city? There is a new city works yard at Bartley Road and Stevens Road, one long block from the old yard and the city owns both properties. This old works yard site is central in the community, on existing bus routes, easy access from many sides, has only one traffic light and no congested bus exchange to get onto Highway 97 North. It is away from agricultural lands and major residential highrise buildings. It means the city staff has to travel only one block to access administration or works, not several kilometres.

Alternatively the office towers at Old Okanagan Highway and Grizzly Road are suitable. We know what they are; an appealing looking structure, readily completed, so the city could get on with converting the present space to recreation pursuits much sooner. The landlord could do the interior finishing thus eliminating any significant initial cash outlay. A long term lease would ensure the costs are spread over many years. All the conflicts and risks of the joint-use site presently proposed are removed.

Another option that would reduce costs is the old Zellers store location. That building, with a mezzanine developed, is easily and inexpensively re-purposed with space for Interior Health to relocate as well. It would require much less parking as a city hall than a major retailer, so the site improvements could include a city hall park to enhance the entire area, something sadly lacking here. Again, all the conflicts and risks of the joint use site presently proposed are removed.

These last two options would involve partnering with members of WFN as the developers, but they are local and have a history of being good neighbours. That is in contrast with the proposed developer partner from away, who will contribute little after the fact, and will take the profits out of the area.

In my view, the best thing for the City of West Kelowna residents is to have a proper referendum with so much taxpayer money at stake.

If you agree, please go on line at www.districtofwestkelowna.ca, print a copy of the petition and deliver it to City Hall, or sign one elsewhere in your community.

Doug Waines, West Kelowna